Hiking The Prairie Trail In Custer State Park
The Prairie Trail In Custer State Park is an approximately three mile loop with a little over 400 feet in elevation gain. Its trailhead can be found off Wildlife Loop Road and leashed pets are allowed on trail. During your hike you will travel through various ecosystems and encounter multiple vantage points offering panoramic views of the vast prairie surrounding you.
In the summer these prairie grasslands host spectacular wildflower displays. During the spring you might just spot the state flower of South Dakota, the American Pasque wildflower. Also called the May Day flower, you will recognize it by its whorl shaped lavender petals which resemble a slightly upturned bell.
This is prime habitat for pronghorn and deer who can often be seen grazing in the grasslands. Bison are known to frequently visit the area as well. We saw absolutely no wildlife during our hike though.
The trail is well maintained and it’s easy to follow the blue diamonds that mark the path. From the trailhead you will cross a small stream in a wooded area before heading out into the prairie. There are a couple stream crossings throughout the hike, but in summer they are usually dry.
These are some rolling prairies and way more uphill than I ever thought there would be. For all the flat parts there are just as many hills to climb. Whenever I think of prairies I think of miles of just flat grasslands, but this was not the case with the Prairie Trail. I really wasn’t expecting all the climbing I ended up doing and some of the hills were slightly steep.
You will end the hike by following the small stream you started at through stands of mixed hardwoods then back to the trailhead.
Most of the hike is through the wide open grasslands and there is absolutely no shade so plan accordingly. Sun screen and protection is a priority if you’re not hiking this trail in the early morning or late in the day. It gets hot fast so make sure everyone has plenty of water as well. We finished this hike around noon and it was already way too hot for everyone.
Our cat Everest is sensitive to heat so we carry an umbrella to use as cover for him in the backpack if he needs it. We get some odd stares sometimes, but hey the things we do for our pets. Even the dog got hot on this hike and needed a break so we took fifteen minutes under the shade of some trees. Everest proceeded to roll in the dirt for five minutes (his favorite activity) while the dog took a nap.
We hated this trail!
Yeah I said it and I’m not taking it back. I think we did a total of 9 hikes (don’t quote me on that) at Custer State Park and this was by far the worse.
I don’t think I’ve ever made a hiking post where I said we hated the trail before. There’s been trails we thought were boring and just ok, but never straight up hated. We weren’t the only ones either. We crossed a couple doing hikes on the same day a few times. They were finishing this trail when we were starting. They didn’t like it. A volunteer at the museum in town we chatted with expressed her views on the trail as well. She wasn’t a fan.
I always do research on trails before we hit one and in my research a lot of people said they liked this trail. Maybe we missed something, but I don’t think so. I don’t even think an amazing wildlife encounter would have made this one better for us. I couldn’t even pinpoint for you the exact reason we hated it, but when we were finished we were so happy.
In my opinion unless you’re completing the parks trail challenge I wouldn’t do this hike. There are so many more excellent options for hiking trails in the park that this one can be skipped completely.